First Yoga Retreat by Yoga Bharati
Set in the beautiful surroundings of the YMCA Camp at Camp Jones Gulch near La Honda in San Francisco Bay Area, the 2-day Yoga residential camp on “Yoga In Daily Life” conducted by Yoga Bharati from March 22-24, 2002 was truly a retreat and attracted close to sixty enthusiastic participants. The hallmark of the program was the integration of Yoga with the teachings of non-dualism as prescribed in the Upanishads. While there are many programs that have focused exclusively on spirituality or on the physical aspect of Yoga, this camp was unique in that it took a holistic view of Yoga in the context of spirituality. Spiritual knowledge and Yoga are highly interrelated because while one is the science, the other is the methodology. For a true holistic living, one needs to inculcate not only a physical discipline but also a discipline in mind, food and prANa (breath, i.e. Life Force).
The different schools in Yoga (Raja Yoga—by endurance, Karma Yoga—by action, Bhakti Yoga—by devotion and Jnaana Yoga- by spiritual knowledge) all have ultimately the same goal of controlling the mind and destroying the ego within the seeker. During the Camp, there was a little bit of each of these different streams of Yoga.
The program commenced on Friday, March 22nd with a brief introduction to Yoga by Sri. N V Raghuram, the main speaker of the Camp and the practice of “traaTak” (eye exercises) by the participants. Sri Raghuram, who directed he program, displayed that rare ability to explain highly profound and intricate topics at a simple and easily comprehensible level to the audience. One of the attendees commented with awe and admiration after one session, “He paints pictures in your mind when he tells a tale to illustrate a concept”.
Each morning began early at 6:00 am with the invocation of several Shanti mantras, followed by a discourse by Sri Raghuram on the role of Upanishads. The meaning of Shanti Mantras was elaborated in detail in subsequent lectures over the course of the Camp. The starting prayer for Isha Vaasu Upanishad (“Purnamadaha purnamidam” mantra) explains that we are complete in ourselves. We are all a creation from the same cosmic and divine source. Therefore, creation is not a curse; it is freedom. The manifest comes out of this complete source that never gets depleted despite creation—which is why we are all the same irrespective of our race, color or creed.
While the knowledge of the Upanishads is timeless, Sri Raghuram explained how the practices that are followed (“karmakhanDa”) have evolved over time. The Upanishads answer the most profound of questions that have haunted mankind since the very beginning—what is the true nature of our existence? But for us to understand the meaning of the Upanishads, the question in our mind should become an intense quest. Sri Raghuram gave the example of Ramana Maharishi’s intense search to understand “Who am I?” and Swami Vivekananda’s eagerness to answer the question that perplexed him, “Have you seen God?” Quite clearly, there are several methods of finding this inner peace even though there is unity in such diverse methods. What is worth remembering is that an object of desire is never a source of happiness; while these may provide transient comfort, they do not provide happiness. Fixating on an external object for happiness only limits our freedom. Rather, that source of happiness always lies within us and all that we need to do is to discover that source and understand the lens through which we look at life and ourselves.
On each morning, a 90-minute Yogabhyaasa (Yoga practice) session was conducted in the Camp by Sri. Udayakiran, a software engineer by profession and trained in Yoga at SYVASA. The asanas included “Yogic jogging”, suryanamaskaara (salutation to the Sun), several types of praaNayaama (conscious breathing) including vibhaaga praaNayama, sookta taaDasana, pavana muktaasana, ardhakaTi chakraasana, bhujangaasana, shalabhasaana, danDaasana, sarvaangasana, janu shirsaana and many more. During the practice, the approach was to become conscious of the specific body part after doing a corresponding pose. The session after dinner on each night of the Camp also included the practice of “traaTak” by the participants under the guidance of Sri Raghuram. traaTak is done with the assistance of a candlelight where the group sits around the flame, and focuses their gaze on the candle even as they focus their attention at the point between their eyes.
During the evening, there were keertans and bhajans that were recited by the participants to foster devotion (bhakti). Bhakti, as Sri Raghuram said, is finding God everywhere.
Are emotions bad? No. Rather, we do not know how to manage emotions, which is why it causes unhappiness. A much-abused word today is the word ‘love’. We all have experience of love but find it difficult to understand what true love is. In the state of love, we go to the object, to the outside but never try to understand what happens to us/within us. True love is unconditional. In contrast, when attached to any condition, the emotion begins to wear thin and could even turn violent if the condition ceased to exist. In true love, one gives and takes happiness. “Amrutaswaroopa anubhava” is the experience that one gets when (s)he views the world from this state of love. An excellent example that Sri Raghuram illustrated to drive home this point was the love that Radha had for Krishna. When Krishna had to leave Radha to fight Kamsa, Radha understood that Krishna was leaving for a greater cause and would not be coming back to marry her. She knew that Krishna would be with him, irrespective of where he would physically be present. What Radha had for Krishna was true love and not lust.
Distinguished speaker and CEO of SelfCorp, Sri Prasad Kaipa explained in an inspired session how these abstract concepts could be used in management and in our career. The Gita is an excellent management manual for aspiring leaders because of the relevance of its context, since it is set in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It shows how even the greatest warrior Arjuna faced a moment of quirkiness and almost felt his skills desert him at a crucial moment. This was a battle for which Arjuna had prepared and honed his skills as a warrior for a whole lifetime. In today’s competitive world, business leaders periodically face such an ‘acid test’ of their abilities and character. For a leader to become effective, (s)he only needs to take a leaf from the Gita: Maintain equanimity (stithapragnya) at all times, pay attention to one’s perspective in whatever (s)he does, choose actions consistent with this perspective at every point, identify the way in which one lives out these actions, understand the context in which (s)he currently operates and be persistent in each one of these endeavors. If one does all these, happiness (sukham) will naturally follow. Indeed, Sri Prasad Kaipa has co-founded his company, Self Corp (http://www.selfcorp.com) to help business leaders improve their effectiveness by doing the afore-mentioned steps.
Patanjali, the great saint who gave Yoga to the world was also one of the founding fathers of Sanskrit grammar. In addition, he laid the foundation for good health in the form of Ayurveda. The three fields are thus naturally inter-related. Noted Ayurvedic practioneer,. Pratichi Mathur explained the essence of Ayurveda and its relationship to Yoga. Ayurveda is about health and not just disease; indeed it is an encyclopedia of life! What marks out Ayurveda is that it takes a holistic view of the body and does not treat a symptom or a body organ in isolation. The result is that there is no camouflaging of symptoms or no side effects that develop in the process of healing. Naturally, Ayurveda is thus administered on a case-by-case basis since each person’s constitution is unique. Because the process of aging cannot be fought and the physical body (unlike the soul) is not eternal; Ayurveda attempts to help an individual develop his own immunity and his power of self-healing. Ayurveda thus has three goals—prevention, cure and development of the consciousness within the individual. An excellent example that Pratichi gave to distinguish between the Ayurvedic approach and conventional medicine is about food—conventional wisdom says that we are what we eat; in contrast, Ayurveda says that we are what we digest! Pratichi practices in the Bay area and provides healing services at the Ganesh Ayurveda Institute in Los Altos (http://www.healingmission.com). Pratichi’s background should in itself convert skeptics to admirers of Ayurveda. Pratichi, who was born with a genetic disability called ankylosing spondylitis and also grew up with asthma, has used the power of Ayurveda to not only avoid her dependence on drugs or even a wheelchair, but also to lead an extremely active lifestyle. It was little wonder therefore that her 75-minute talk was very interactive and evoked a tremendous amount of interest from the audience.
Samskrita Bharati sevak, Sri Vasuvaj gave a lively talk in Sanskrit on the importance of Sanskrit—although over 70% of his talk was in Sanskrit, nobody in the audience, including people of non-Indian origin, found it difficult to follow him. His energetic speech convinced the audience that “Samskritam kaTinam naasti” (Sanskrit is not difficult). It is a common misconception that Sanskrit is a language that is difficult to learn or is not “alive”. Yet, most people passively know Sanskrit when they know any Indian language, since Sanskrit is the root of most languages. Its structured syntax makes the language highly scalable and new words can be formed from the 4,000 dhaatu (root) words to keep pace with man’s new inventions and/or discoveries. Sanskrit’s application in the areas of natural language processing are already well documented, due to its context-independent structure that makes it easier to parse by computers. Sri Vasuvaj showed how Panini, who laid the foundation for Sanskrit grammar wrote such a concise text called “Ashtaadhyaayi” (“8 chapters”) containing all the rules of grammar in strotras (verses) that it could easily be printed in a small text of less than 75 pages!
The Camp had many other activities too. On Saturday evening, a one-hour event, “Yogic games” was held by Sri Vasuvaj and other volunteers that was filled with games adapted from tales of Ramayana/Mahabharat and intended to develop a subtle awareness of Indian heritage in the process. During the evening, there were keertans and bhajans that were recited by the participants to foster devotion. The Camp was filled with very community-conscious participants, who served food in groups to all and even rested in groups during late evenings. For kids, there were special programs planned that included nature walks, hand painting, asanas (postures) for kids and many more. Each session was very interactive, with tremendous enthusiasm and participation from the audience that extended into discussions and personal consultations with the speakers during inter-session breaks. The Camp participants were immersed in these activities from 6:00 am-10:00 pm every day, making it was not only a ‘Yoga In Daily Life’ Camp but also a ‘Yoga In Every Moment’ Camp!